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Nanotech Fear Peddlers Are Back, Insisting ‘Here Be Monsters’

Get ready for the anti-nanotech Luddites in 2012.

by
Howard Lovy

Bio

December 29, 2011 - 12:02 am
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The National Association of Manufacturers put it best back in ’06 when the Friends of the Earth first discovered they can get some press on this nano thing. “Once again industry is forced to respond to unfounded allegations by a group with a very definite — and anti-progress — agenda. We should let nanotechnology flourish, and tell the Luddites to get out of the way.”

But, at the time, the activists got the headlines they wanted. And they will likely get a few headlines in 2012 by media outlets who want to go along for the ride for ideological reasons. There has always been a disconnect between the nanotech portrayed in the mainstream media and what is actually happening. It is usually a question of who puts out the most interesting press releases. And, unfortunately, anti-nanotech Luddites are organized and can get a few headlines going among editors who have a vague idea that nanotech has something to do with out-of-control swarms of tiny “things.”

The same problem exists even outside “environmental” circles. I’ve heard too often words similar to those used by NPR’s David Kestenbaum, as reported on Dexter Johnson’s excellent Nanoclast blog: ”After billions of dollars where are the nanotech products?” Nanotech experts set the NPR reporter straight and explained to him what real nanotech is.

Of course, I am not surprised at this typical NPR ignorance. They have never covered nanotech accurately. Instead, their child-like correspondents and producers focus on overproduced garbage rather than real reporting. (You want grown-ups producing better, in-depth technology coverage without distracting bells and whistles, listen to the BBC).

There will not necessarily be one nano-eureka moment that will usher in the true Age of Nanotechnology. Instead, nanotech will slowly infiltrate existing products and processes, making them better. Computers will run faster and more efficiently, drugs will go straight to cancer tumors and not harm healthy cells, even paint will contain tiny solar cells to power devices.

At least, in the near-term future, that is what we can expect from nanotech. And it’s pretty amazing even without one single eureka moment.

As for “environmental implications,” well, we all know not to believe everything we read. Find out who’s behind the fear-mongering, what actual studies have been done and what is simply fantasy?

Nanotech, unfortunately, is such a broad term that it can encompass both our greatest hopes and our greatest fears. May your New Year be filled with hope and wonder.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

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Howard Lovy is a Michigan-based freelance writer who specializes in science, business and innovation. He has been covering developments in nanotechnology for more than a decade.
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